Friday, November 25, 2011

November Rose

On Wednesday evening, as we pulled out of our driveway, I noticed that our rose bush had forced out one last bloom.  Unusual.  Our roses usually bloom in June and again in August, but this was the end of November - yet there it was, proud banner at the very top of the otherwise-dormant bush, looking bright and fragrant and summer-y.  I asked for a volunteer to cut it and bring it in from the impending frost, but no one was willing, so when we got home I cut it for myself, placing it in a bud vase by the kitchen sink.

Every Thanksgiving, my husband invites people to our home for dinner.  There are plenty of lonely people around here.  Even though our home is uninvitingly small and I am a poor cook at best, Thanksgiving is all about togetherness, and no one should spend the day alone.  Typical of those without plans, most of them don't let us know if they will come until just before the meal is served.  I am not usually familiar with the people who are invited, and sometimes meet them for the first time when they arrive at my house.

Being a poor cook, I used to be quite sensitive about having people over.  It's hard to prepare foods for special events when there is no hope of the food being special.  However, over the years I've become pretty good at a few dishes:  turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and homemade rolls. While I will never make a Thanksgiving Feast cookbook, my versions are passable and sometimes, by chance, tasty.

This year, however, the potatoes were a problem.  First of all I forgot to buy them.  When I realized on Wednesday evening that I didn't have them, I considered skipping them altogether, but they are a favorite with Teen, so off to the crowded supermarket I went (which is when I spied the rose).  On our return home, I scrubbed, cubed, and boiled them.  Something wasn't right, though.  Some of the potato cubes were overdone, while others seemed undercooked.  I drained and mashed them anyway, but the result was a starchy, lumpy concoction that even I was embarrassed to claim.  I decided it was too late to change plans, though, and on Thursday I put them into the oven with the rest of the food to warm.  To add to my embarrassment, the top and sides ended up a bit crusty.  Ah, well.  No one really expects gourmet meals from me, and there would be plenty of gravy.

All of our guests called with regrets, but at the last minute one man, David, decided to come.  My husband introduced us, then Teen and I set the food on the table and we all sat down to the meal.  After a prayer of thanks, I served as we made small talk.  Everything was going well until I began to serve those potatoes. I mentioned that they'd been a bit of a problem to make.  My husband said, "Oh!  Well, David can help you with that.  He's a chef!"


A chef.

At my table.

On Thanksgiving.

And I'm a terrible cook.

And I've ruined the simplest dish on the table.

I heaped everyone's plates Thanksgiving-full, but went very light on the potatoes.  I didn't want the added embarrassment of having six plates full of potatoes to scrape into the garbage.  Gravy, butter, salt, and pepper were passed, and we began to eat.  The usual compliments were passed, as well: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and rolls all were duly noted.

Then it started.  "These potatoes are delicious!!"  "Amazing!"  "Wonderful!"  Everyone ate their potatoes.  Most asked for more...and more.  The chef had three helpings, all the while extolling the virtues of the incredible potatoes.

Figures.  The one thing I cook fantastically well is not only an accident, it's also not reproducible!  Still, it felt good to have cooked something that everyone genuinely liked.

We enjoyed the rest of the day, sharing family stories, playing Wii, and discussing Scripture.  The table was cleared and our guest left after a very pleasant time together.

Reflecting on the meal and fellowship as I washed dishes, I sniffed my unlikely rose and called it a good day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More on Me 'N' Solomon

One the Bible's great mysteries is Solomon's downfall.  God gave him wisdom - more wisdom than anyone who'd ever walked the earth, before or since.  And Solomon walked away from God.

I know that's a gross oversimplification.  After all, he lived a life between being granted that gift and the end of his days.  As the king of a powerful nation, I'm confident that his life must have been full of more stress and trial than I'll ever imagine.

Still, I wonder.  What was the problem?  He had money, prestige, and power.  And he used it to obtain lands, wives, wealth, and, ultimately, other beliefs.

He had an amazing father.  King David was no spiritual slouch.  He was exuberant for the Lord.  His praise was lively.  His repentance was deep.  His reliance on God was exemplary.  And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this was part of Solomon's problem.

My husband's faith is exuberant, lively, deep, exemplary.  He makes no bones about loving his Lord.  Most of the time it's beautiful and outstanding and worthy of emulation.  It can also be perplexing, dismaying, and even embarrassing.  I'm sure some in David's day found him the same, though I'm certain that few had the platform to say so.  Naturally, the Bible would not report such near-blasphemous thoughts.

If David were alive today, would he sit in his car, in his own driveway, blasting the worship music and weeping?  Would he jump and kick before the podium while strumming his lyre?  Would his amplified voice crack with emotion as he pronounces words of redemption?  Would he shake hands with strangers and look deeply into their souls as he shares his savior with them?  Would others' discomfort in these situations even admit itself to his perception?

Men of great passion are hard to live with on a daily basis, particularly for the cerebral.  Those of us who are also spiritual face an internal dissonance.  The man of passion lives all the external ideals of the faith. To disdain his passion is to seem to disdain his faith, as well.  The dissonance must be even greater for an adult child than it is for a wife.

There are few choices in such a situation.  To embrace the passion is to slap one's own intellect in the face.  Living alongside it, without participating, causes the dissonance to crescendo to an unavoidable din.  Outright rejection, the option that perhaps Solomon eventually chose, is unacceptable, at least to the faithful.

There is another option, one that doesn't particularly appeal to me as an all-or-nothing kind of person.  And that is to step in slowly, toe first, as if timidly entering a pool.  A sprinkle baptism of sorts, if you will, with the intention of becoming a dunk...eventually.  The hard part is that it must be intentional.  Rather than waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and shove me into the tank, I've got to bare my own sole and begin the ponderous plunge myself.

If I maintain my gradual immersion, perhaps my kids, who are  guided by my actions far more than by my words, will find their balance better than Solomon did.


Some of my earlier thoughts on Solomon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picking at Scabs

Why do we do this? When we were kids, we'd peek under the band-aid until it fell off, then pry up the edge of the crusted blood. It hurt hurt hurt, but for some reason we just had to look.

I was on Facebook today, and decided to look over the list of folks Facebook thought would be good friends for me. I was very surprised to see the name of a person with whom we'd had a significant disagreement this past summer. It wasn't your normal relationship thing, either. There were very serious allegations involved, and the outcome was the splitting of a beautiful group of people and a lot of very hurtful finger-pointing.

So did I scroll past the suggestion? Did I close the page? Did I shut down my browser and find something else to do? Of course not. I clicked on the name.

Despite only recently joining Facebook, this person had hundreds of friends. Of the top few, several were former friends of ours who'd judged us, harshly, based on accusations that were fabricated to sway opinion. These former friends never even sought our side of the story - just cut us off.

This person had also set up a brand spankin' new website for the group that had so painfully been split. Naturally, pathetically, I followed the link to view the site. It was very welcoming. It warmly invited all who were interested to join (except those of us who'd been asked to leave, but of course that was not mentioned).


What happens when we pick at scabs? Well, our curiosity is sated. At what cost? Pain. Prolonged time for recovery. And, if we're not careful, infection. The wound now requires more time and attention to heal properly, and is more likely to leave a lasting scar.

Of course I realize that there is no way this wound was going to heal completely to begin with. The laceration was jagged, rough and deep. Those who would have offered aid and relief were the ones who caused the injury. And infection set in very quickly. (Should I admit that I derived a very tiny amount of pleasure from the grammar and spelling errors I saw on the website? Probably not.)

But there was no good reason for me to entertain my curiosity this way. I might just as well have poured salt right into that gaping gash. And not the good, "salt of the earth" kind of salt, either.

So why do we do this? I have no answer. I'd love to be able to say it filled my heart with forgiveness and love toward the people who hurt us. I'd love to say that I wished them well with their new group and rejoiced that they seem to be off to a good start. I'd love to, but I'd be lying.

Time for a fresh band-aid. Maybe some antibiotic ointment - I'll find it in prayer. And maybe my Father will hold me again, despite my foolish picking, and reassure me that it will be all right.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hotdog Lady

Since I was young, I've always wanted a nickname.  When others give you a moniker, it indicates a kind of intimacy.  It must feel good to have those you belong with confirm that belonging by choosing an endearing quality about you and dubbing you with a special name.  Even silly names often reflect a fun event in the history of a relationship.  In fact, one of my favorite Bible promises has long been Revelation 2:17, which says "I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it."  A sort of a nickname straight from God, in my mind.

That's not to say that I didn't have a nickname growing up.  My first name, unfortunately, rhymes with the name of a particularly odious canned meat product made, nominally, of spiced ham.  The coincidence was not lost on the average American schoolchild, so rather than my given name, I was often called by the name of the "food" item, instead.

Nickname - good.  Processed meat - bad.

When I first became a Christian, I felt strongly about not participating in Halloween.  It just seemed wrong, given its history and its spiritual significance, which continues even to the present.  For many years, my husband and I would purposely go out to dinner rather than stay home during trick or treat time.  However, about four years ago I was very touched by a post I read on a homeschooling forum.  A mom much like myself shared that she'd felt the same way, and even had a good excuse not to join in - her family lived on a house at the top of a solitary hill.  It would be quite a hike for little ghouls and goblins to reach their home, not that she desired to participate, anyhow.  But one day a Bible verse touched her: the passage in Matthew 5 that says that a city on a hill can not be hid, and to let your light shine before men.  From that time, she has thrown on the lights and made her home on a hill bright, welcoming those who would come and hoping to shine a spiritual light in her neighborhood.  She really got me thinking.

A little further in the conversation, another mom related how they handed out hotdogs every year.  "Huh?" I thought. "Hotdogs?  That's a little nuts."  But the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea.  Once per year the whole neighborhood comes right to my door.  What better way to meet people than to give them something they would value?  They'll surely stay a few minutes and chat.  I shared the idea with my husband, and after some prayer, he agreed that we would try it.

October 31, 2008, we brought our barbecue onto our front walk and began grilling our Halloweenies.  Even though it's an urban neighborhood (or perhaps because of it), we don't get a whole lot of folks trick or treating.  But what fun it was to ask a group of costume-clad travelers if they wanted hotdogs.  None of them had ever heard of such a thing!  The idea took a few seconds to process.  Sometimes they asked how much we would charge them.  Sometimes they appeared distrustful.  But for the most part, they came, enjoyed a hotdog, and spent a few minutes talking.  We had a wonderful time!  We met neighbors, shook hands, and even prayed with a few people.  We had tracts available because they were stamped with the church address (and often, when people hear that my husband is a pastor, they want to know which church he leads).

We've given out hotdogs every year since, and this was our fourth year.  Once we also gave out juice boxes, but that got a little messy.  The next year we changed it to hot apple cider, which most parents welcome as the chilly day draws to an end.

This year was extra special.  Really, really special.  You see, right around 5:30 we saw two families traveling together.  While they were still across the street and nearly a block down, one little girl began to jump up and down.  "It's the hotdog lady!  The hotdog lady!" she yelled.  The group walked a bit faster - one family of kids were eager to have a quick meal, and the other were excited to see who on earth would hand out hotdogs for free.

I was chatting with another mom, whom I'd met the year before, when her husband called.  He wanted to know where to meet her.  "I'm at the hotdog lady's house," she told him, and he needed no further description.

Ah.  At long last.  My dream has come true!

Nickname - good.  Processed meat - good!

Friday, October 21, 2011

They Didn't Come Back. But...

The Visitors did not return.

We were all rather pathetic on Sunday.  As the regulars entered the sanctuary, they were clearly crestfallen at the sight of the two empty pews.  And each time the church door opened, almost everyone turned to see who was entering.  The thoughts were nearly audible - maybe the Visitors came a little late!


But...they called on Wednesday.  Out of town guests kept them away, and a vacation would prevent attendance next week, but they are looking forward to joining us again the week after that.

Ah.  That feels good!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Back Door Optimist

This is my new term.  It describes someone who acts and talks like a pessimist, when all along the real determination is optimism.

I am a back door optimist.

When something comes up (an opportunity, a problem), I immediately assume the worst will happen.  And why do I do that?  Because the worst WON'T happen, and then I'll be a step or two further toward happy than I would have been if I had optimistically expected the best but didn't get it.

The only hitch to this is when the worst does happen.  Because I wasn't, actually, expecting that.

You might say I'm a "glass is 1/8 full" kind of gal.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

There Is Only One Leonardo da Vinci...

...and you're not him.

I said this to my son today.  See, he's very smart.  Unusually smart, if I do say so myself.  But he's lazy as the day is long.  He'd rather sketch a few ideas, jot some notes, and wait four or five hundred years for someone else to come along and actually produce anything worthwhile.

Unfortunately, brilliant inventors who do nothing are probably a dime a dozen.  I often wonder how on earth Leonardo actually became famous.  Surely it was because of his art.  But my son is not artistic.  And there aren't many rich aristocrats looking for starving artists to sponsor these days, anyway.

Nope.  He's just going to have to learn to work, like the rest of us.

Poor guy.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Visitors That Came Back

Today was a banner day at church.

You see, we had visitors last week.

Our church is small - very, very small - so visitors are quite noticeable.  Our church is very, very friendly, so visitors are much welcomed.  Our church is also a very, very short distance from a major tourist attraction, though.  And, besides all that, we're Pentecostal.

Now, we're not Holy Rollin' Pentecostal, by any stretch of the imagination.  Our worship is lively but not jumpin'.  Some of us (most of us) raise our hands now and again as an expression of worship.  One or two dance sometimes, gingerly and a bit self-consciously.  After each song we generally have some light applause and a few quiet hallelujahs.  In the murmur, if you listen carefully, you can hear one or two gently praying in a special language only the Holy Spirit understands.

Last week, two whole families came to visit.  Two.  Whole.  Families.  That's two pews - whole pews! - filled.  Although our church seats over 200, our regular Sunday attendance is somewhere around 45.  Our service was unusually long last week - an hour longer than usual.  We had a visiting missionary from India, you see, and we freely give our pulpit to those who give their lives to share the gospel and minister to others in need.  After the service, the two families stayed for a bit, greeting people and talking among themselves.

Then they left.

And the waiting began.

It isn't usual for visitors to return.  Generally, they really are just visiting and are from out of town.  Or our Pentecostalism turns them off.  Sometimes our service is too long (usually an hour and a half).  Or our two-member worship team just doesn't do it for them.  Or any of a number of reasons (pews too hard, nursery too small, not enough families, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera).

It is nerve-wracking to be a tiny, close-knit church and have two whole families visit.  You can't help but hope to see them again.  I suspect that, last Sunday, there was a lot of talk over dinner at various members' homes about the Visitors and the likelihood of their return.  Last week's Visitors, especially.  Turns out they were local.  And they stayed after service to talk with us - a good sign.  We imagine the Visitors' teens in our youth group.  Perhaps the Visitors will even come to Bible Study.  Maybe one or two of the Visitors plays an instrument!  Why, we could double our worship team!

Those two pews looked really good all filled up like that.  And the people who normally sat there didn't bat an eye about their usual seats being taken - after all, these were Visitors.  And the Visitors were nice people.  And they had kids.  They held a sort of promise that maybe our church won't always be so very, very small.

At our house, we expressed some hope, but kept things pretty quiet.  No one wants to get all excited over visitors, only to be disappointed yet again.  It's probably toughest on the pastor and his family when visitors come who could potentially stay.

It was a long, wait-ful week.

And this week, they came back. (!!!)

And, if possible, we'll be even more nerve-wracked come Saturday night of this week, wondering if we'll see them again.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Summer Travels

I've recently returned from Jackson, Mississippi, where I lived for a year.  Only it was actually only four days.  A good book will do that to you.

I read a lot.  In fact, I've curbed my reading over the last few years because once I begin a book, nothing much else gets done.  I'm the kind of reader who can't let go of a story, no matter how poorly written or how ridiculous the story line.  Because of this, I've experienced a lot of great literature, and a lot of baloney books, too.  Last week I made a wild swing on the whiplash express between the two.

Now that my toddler is in a big-girl bed but is not the kind of person you'd want wandering free in the night, I've loaded several reading apps into my iPod Touch.  I sit at the foot of her bed and read as she falls asleep.  Because of my skinflint nature, I only read freebies, so I picked up a few free offerings from CBD's new ebook list and downloaded a title or two from the local library.

One of the first titles I read was Reinventing Leona, by Lynne Gentry.  I liked the concept behind the story line:  a pastor's wife, living in the church-owned parsonage, is abruptly widowed.  Always dependent on her husband's strong personality and comfortable in her role as his helper, she now must become her own person and make her own life.  This plot rang a bell with me, since I am the wife of a pastor and we live in the parsonage.  As I read, I related more with the author of the book than with the story, however.  In my mental fiction, Ms. Gentry has enjoyed reading since she was a small child.  She probably won school awards for her writing.  Maybe she has a blog and gets a lot of compliments on her imagery and writing style.  She's toyed with an idea:  she dreams of writing a book (don't we all?).  Armed with a unique and interesting story line and the good wishes and encouragement of her friends, she begins to write.  It goes in spurts.  Sometimes the writing just flows; at other times, she agonizes over each phrase.  She reads and rereads until her own words make her crazy.  Finally she turns portions over to her friends and asks them for brutal honesty.  They like it!  She's affirmed!  After sending her idea to a publisher, they ask for the manuscript, the deal is sealed, she works and sweats and strains, and one day she holds a book - HER book - in her hands!

Bad news:  My story is better than hers.  Her writing never quite invites you in.  The plot is overly segmented and often difficult to follow.  You never actually experience Leona reinvented, but only rehashed.  Scriptures are placed carefully and predictably.  But the worst part - the part that made me groan and roll my eyes, even though I empathized with Ms. Gentry - was the imagery.  The imagery, in fact, was what clued me into my likeness with her.  At points, her story moved along smoothly enough, but then I'd hit rocky pavement littered by sharp descriptions of every type and of every thing.  My mind stumbled and stalled as I tried to follow the faint trail of her plot through the clutter.  Some of her images bordered on the ridiculous (sorry, Ms. Gentry, if you ever read this, but it's true - please keep reading), like when she described the main character entering her overbearing mother's hospital room "like the Ty-D-Bol man."  The fits and starts are where my mental self-critic inserted itself.  "Just why," it asked bluntly, "do you think you could do a better job?  Your words are much like hers.  You rarely think of a unique phrase or untried description.  If you weren't reading this right now, you'd never even see it."

It wasn't a horrible book, but it wasn't one I'd recommend.  It had a unique story line and interesting characters.  And her descriptions were vivid, though heavy-handed.  I ended the book without the sad regret you feel when you've become a part of the literature.  But I learned a lot from that book about great literature, and talent, and running with your dream.  I hope Ms. Gentry writes again, and I hope she finds her way to clarity and definition.  I hope her friends and editors do more than encourage.  And I hope that I can make as much of my talent (when I find one!) as she has.  The plot line sold me on the book because of my similarity to the main character; my take-away was my similarity with the author.

The ebook I read after that was borrowed from the library.  The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, doesn't require my review.  I hope I get to visit Jackson, Mississippi (or New York, or Chicago...) with her again soon.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Truth from a Toddler

Warning:  Sappy, religious content ahead.  Read at your own risk!

Teen was cleaning her bedroom with Toddler on Saturday.  While emptying an old backpack, Teen unearthed a small New Testament Bible, and Toddler begged her for it.  Daddy, being the preacher that he is, explained to Toddler that this is the Bible - the Jesus Book.

Toddler took this idea and completely ran with it.  She would NOT put that Bible down for a minute.  She opened it, "read" it, closed it, and carried it around with her all evening long.

When it was time for bed, I let her keep it with her rather than face the tempest that would surely come if I took it.  I was glad I did!  She held the book up to me and told me, "Momma!  This book says Jesus loves me!  That's what it's about, Hun-neeee!"  Over and over she repeated it.  She opened her Bible and noted that there were letters inside, which I explained made words that we can read.  Then she closed it and silently pondered it for a minute.  In a voice filled with reverence, she said, "There's a power in this book.  This book is a power!"

This preaching of hers is old territory for me.  I know the Bible is powerful; I know its central message is to bring men and women (and very little girls) to the love of God through Jesus.  I know that, and I depend heavily on it.  But familiarity with long-memorized verses, and with the old, old story itself, dull my awareness and my thinking.  The truths of the Bible become like oxygen - vital for survival, but outside of my daily consideration even as I fully rely on them.  I can repeat them even as I can repeat the qualities and uses of oxygen.  Faith is a lot like science in that way - filled with wonder at first discovery but everyday-ordinary after some routine usage.

This is, of course, why Jesus wanted us to have faith like that of a little child.  Every reading of the ancient book results in a brand spankin' new discovery - a little more fresh oxygen to support life and growth.  This is where the verse comes to pass, in my life, anyway, that a little child shall lead them.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Gardening Work

Only three blog posts in July!  Disappointing (to me, anyway).

So very much has been going on that I'm surprised I haven't written.  These are not things that keep me busy physically, but they take a lot of mental and emotional energy, and that usually means thoughts stewing into written words.

Some things have been good.  Toddler has doubled her age.  Teen went to a foreign land as a medical missionary.  Tween has somehow come across a new self that enjoys being responsible (sometimes).

Some things have been very bad.  Beloved friendships are being tried.  Life-altering decisions are being made.  Good, good things are being pried from my fingertips as I stand, confused, and wonder why.

Growth and pruning.  Growth and pruning.  Beauty comes, and some of it must be cut away - but not without purpose.  As painful as the shears may be, they make room for better, more beautiful things, once the pain dulls and the wounds heal a bit.  As the blades bite, the pain leaves me wondering what could possibly spring from this.  But, at my age, I've seen it before - this gardening work.  And because of that, the pain becomes resignation.  There is hope.  There is knowledge - good, firm knowledge - that better is coming.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spinning Ceiling Fans Tell No Tales

Typing on my iPod so I'm not sure how this will turn out...

I'm not much of a housekeeper. I've gotten better over the last few years, but better doesn't always equal good.  An example is my ceiling fan. It never occurred to me that this is an item one must clean. We had no ceiling fan as a kid, and even if we had, not a lot of cleaning went on at our house, anyway.

This afternoon I was very pleased to have visitors to my home - a friend I'd met on an online forum and her children. My kids and I were pretty well prepared for this visit. We'd shopped for lunch items yesterday, then cleaned and straightened the house until all that was left to do was slicing fruit and tidying up a bit.

This morning, as I stood at my unusually neat counter cutting watermelon, I happened to look up and notice my ceiling fan. I've seen it many times, but rarely noticed it - and what I noticed today made me cringe.  I suppose the fan blades had been white at some time in the past, but time, humidity, grease and ash (have I mentioned that I'm a terrible cook?) have done their work well.  The blades are now grey and splotched.  I would even tell you that they look a bit fuzzy but I'd hate to lose any of my few readers.  I recall trying to clean the blades once in the not-recent past.  I applied a number of different cleaning preparations and tools, but nothing worked and I gave up.  The blades certainly looked no better this morning for a few more years' accumulation.

It's daunting to have visitors when you're a terrible housekeeper, particularly if they are people you've never met.  Over the past few years I've tried to adopt an attitude that showing hospitality is more important than absolute cleanliness, but when fuzzy fan blades are staring you in the face, those thoughts go right out of the window.  I had two options:  Stop preparing lunch and try to scrub the fan blades (guaranteed to fail), or ignore the fan blades and hope everyone else did, too (certain to blow my cover as a successful housekeeper).  In a mild panic, I stopped what I was doing to think.  I walked over to the door and flicked on the light, and that's when the perfect solution hit me!

Yesterday, as part of preparing the house, I'd mopped the kitchen and turned on the ceiling fan to help the floor dry.  The fan was on all day, and when the kitchen light was turned off at bedtime, the fan turned off, as well.  When I flipped the light switch, the fan again began to turn.  Voila!  My problem became imperceptible.

If only solving all of life's problems was so easy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not Nothing To Say...

but far too much.  Most of which will probably never refine itself into coherent blog posts.

Can't think of when I've ever been speechless before!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Planning School

I've been trying to decide what to teach my son next year.  There are so many things to learn, and so many ways to teach them.  It's a difficult decision.  Today it occurred to me that I'm going about the thing all wrong.

I'm seeking, as usual, a good match between his interests, his learning style, and what he needs to know to fulfill state standards.

What I should be assessing are areas of strength and weakness, and areas that require growth and change.

This was a difficult year.  The first semester was spent unschooling, as much as anyone in a highly regulated state can do that.  By the end of the semester, he realized that self-directed learning wasn't really getting him anywhere, and asked for books.  I happily complied.  He excelled at first, but after a month or so, his enthusiasm waned, and so did his character.  He became lazy, deceptive, and occasionally defiant.  These issues were much more easily treated when he was younger; compounded by approaching teen-hood, they fixed themselves firmly as a part of his personality.

I don't know how far any curriculum can go toward goals that are more character-oriented than standards driven, but I need to try to pursue strategies that will encourage the character growth as well as the knowledge.

As a reminder to myself, these are areas I need to focus on in the coming year:

  • Partnership learning - he and I need to work together in one subject area, not so much as authority and subordinate, but as partners.  Goal: relationship building through shared experience.
  • Independent work - he needs to be able to read and comprehend lessons without my intervention in at least one subject area.  Goal: building confidence and self-reliance.
  • Planning and strategizing - he needs to better plan and prioritize his work.  Goal: base his expectations on a realistic understanding of the work involved.
  • Honesty/integrity - he needs to mean what he says with intention to fulfill his word.
  • Social skills - he needs to catch up a bit in terms of social maturity. 
  • Get my husband involved - Tween needs to have more of a connection and mentorship with his strong Christian father.  He also needs the pressure to excel that closer interaction with his dad will build. Not sure how to implement this one, given my husband's erratic schedule.
Often, when I type things like this, I feel like I've set my Christianity aside.  Please understand that these thoughts presuppose God's guidance and help.  The ultimate goal is always to become conformed more to the image of Christ, for him and for me.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I did a little gardening today.  Been trying to spruce up the front flower beds.  I'm not a garden artist; I plant and hope for the best.

My front flower bed needed a little border around it (and the bed on the other side of the door needed a pick-me-up), so I added some impatiens.  Meaning no offense to any gardener who might be reading, planting impatiens feels, to me, like serving TV dinners.  I bought them ready-made, dug a hole, and called them mine.

We had a little garden in our back yard when I was growing up.  It was about 20 x 10 feet, and each of the four of us had a section to plant.  We grew vegetables - tomatoes, corn, carrots, and a little lettuce.  There was also the famous Radish Year, which was the year we each planted a gazillion radishes, then realized we all hated them.  My father, who grew up during the Great Depression and couldn't bear to waste food, ate radishes at every meal and then some.  Gardening, when I was a kid, was about digging, planting seeds, nurturing tiny seedlings, and a long, work-heavy process before fresh veggies were served for dinner.

I planted my impatiens and considered how life has changed.  I've always dreamed of raising vegetables and flowers from seeds with my kids.  We've tried a number of times, but have never been successful.  The poison of neglect always kills any chance of a crop.  The one exception has been cherry tomatoes, and those were grown from plants purchased at a store.  To be honest, I lack the wherewithall to prepare peat pots, care for tiny seedlings, turn the soil, plant, water, weed, and stake.  It's a faster-paced life, at least for me, and I lack the determination to slow it down enough to watch the plants grow.

I'm glad for my impatiens, but sorry for my impatience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I figured out why my kids talk so much and so early.  Not sure why it didn't occur to me before.

Now that I have a toddler, I spend a lot of time with others who also have them.  And I've noticed that I differ from other moms in one important way:  I talk to my kid.  A lot.  A way lot!

Most moms talk to their babies, but after some observation, I'm convinced that I go overboard.  One mom tells her son to sit.  I tell my daughter to climb carefully into the green chair.  Another mom tells her little girl that it's time to go.  I explain where we're going, how we'll get there, and what we'll do when we arrive.

Obviously, my kids think it's very normal to verbalize every little thing, and perhaps they even think it's important to include as much detail as possible.  They also probably have some genetic tendency to run at the mouth, and would have obtained that from both sides, as my husband is verbose even by my standards.

Perhaps you think it sounds quaint - all the descriptions we trade with each other, all the little baby-talk conversations we have.  Maybe you wonder if it prepares them for a life of literary interest or even a vocation in writing.

I haven't raised one to adulthood yet, but I can assure you of one outcome:  parental insanity.  When you teach your child to talk about absolutely anything, that's exactly what you'll get.  Teen stays up late into the night telling me all about the girl at school who stole her pencil; Tween talks all the livelong day about everything and nothing.  Toddler, in her endearing baby accent, talks about what Toddler wants, what Toddler doesn't want, how Toddler feels, and more about what Toddler wants.  And she talks to her toys.  And sings.  Constantly.  By the time the evening rolls around, my ears are ready for a break.  Who am I kidding?  By the time noon rolls around!

The truly ironic thing is that I value peace and quiet very highly.  I rarely work with music on; I can't converse with the TV playing in the background.  My favorite moment of the day is that half-second at bedtime just after I turn out the light when all the world is dark and silent.

Why, oh why, did I start down this road of teaching my kids to talk by example?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Day In The Real Life Of...

Recently I purposed to spend a day IRL. I have a vibrant online life, but things are pretty stale away from the computer. We planned a trip to the zoo, a run into the library, a friend over for dinner, and baseball practice in the evening. If I'm going to do a real day, it's going to be as chock-full of life as possible.

The first hitch came when the friend, a mutual pal of Teen and Tween, was unable to come over. Her parents had a stomach virus, and while I love my kids' friends, I don't love them that much! Her absence simplified matters, however, as it meant I did not need to clean the house. That kind of disappointment carries a bit of gratification, as well.

Tween, Toddler and I dropped Teen at school. The school is only 10 minutes from the zoo, while it is 30 minutes from home. We planned to have a Dunkin Donuts breakfast, then head to the zoo, but my planning skills are almost as poor as my cooking, and we ended up with a 2 1/2 hour lag before the zoo would open. Even the best toddler can't spend 2 1/2 hours over a bagel (and mine is far from the best toddler), so an hour later we arrived home, having made a quick stop to eat.

After a little down time (if there ever is such a thing with an under-two), we climbed back into the car and began the trip toward the zoo. As we got within a few blocks, the traffic came to a standstill. I casually looked around and counted, in a single block span, twelve school buses ahead of us. Aggravation rose in me; I detest crowds. I shared the number of buses with Tween. He must have even more optimism than I, because he immediately looked behind us and remarked that at least we were ahead of two other buses. Sigh.

We slowly inched closer to the entrance. When we were within sight of the gate, three cars back, in fact, the parking lot workers began to wave people away. Incredibly, there were no more parking spaces available in the lot!

Our zoo is surrounded by a large public park. We decided to circle the park and find a spot there. There were no parking spaces in the park, either! Well, to be absolutely truthful, there was one. It required backing down a one-way drive on a hill (did I mention that I drive stick?). Its location was less than ideal. In fact, I didn't know its location. My sense of direction is almost as poor as my planning ability. I had no idea where the zoo was in relation to the parking spot, and I was unwilling to walk an unknown distance to the zoo where I would walk all day and then have to walk back to the car.

I shared the disappointing news with my son, and we rounded the park to its exit. We followed our carefully Mapquested directions until we reached a street that was closed. No detour - just orange cones and confusion. My poor sense of direction kicked in, and soon we were hopelessly lost.

As I frantically searched for any familiar landmark, my son enjoyed the view from his window. Suddenly he saw a sign. The <Local> History Museum And Library was just ahead. He wondered if we could go there instead. "Sounds really, really boring," I thought. My optimism had abandoned me somewhere in the traffic for the parking lot. When trying to enjoy real life, though, it's best not to depress the folks you're spending it with. I dutifully followed the signs and we were soon parked in front of a small building designed to resemble the Parthenon (only smaller, of course). I noted, regretfully, that the museum was open, so we climbed the steps and entered.

We paid the very small admission fee to the clerk at the gift shop and made our way into the main part of the museum.Tween immediately spied a sign that said "Trains Downstairs." My son is a huge railway fan, and has been since he was 18 months old, so we headed down. I expected a cheesy replica of a train station and a disappointed son. Instead we hit pay dirt - a full HO scale layout built to represent various sites of local history, complete with explanatory text and black and white photos. Tween was in heaven! As we walked around the table, a young man entered and offered to turn the track on for us. We examined the steam engines and their cars, and chatted excitedly about the detailed layout.

After nearly an hour, we thanked the man and left the room. I cautioned my son to be careful - no other patrons had been in the train room with us, and he'd gotten a little frisky with all the excitement, so I wanted to make him aware that there would be others in the museum and that he should be courteous.

I was mistaken, though. There were no other patrons. The entire museum (small though it was) was ours for the day. We looked at displays, read plaques, let Toddler run around. We did what we wanted when we wanted to, without worrying about squeezing between strangers or taking too long at something. Take that, crowded zoo!

We spent a little more than three hours at the museum, then asked for directions and made our way to Teen's school in time to pick her up. We ran to the library, had dinner, and went to baseball practice as planned.

Real life was more disappointing, aggravating, surprising, and satisfying than I expected!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Lesson Learned

I suffered a birthday recently.  As birthdays go, this one was pretty good - a nice quiet day without a lot of fuss.

There is a dear old saint at church.  She's been attending for longer than I've been alive.  She's seen pastors come and go.  She's served pastor's wives who are far better than I; in her economy, the pastor's wife ranks right up there with the angelic host.  I am the antithesis of a typical pastor's wife.  I am reserved and introverted.  As sweet and saintly as she is, because I am much younger than her and don't meet her expectations of a pastor's wife, she shows in small ways that I don't quite measure up.  She often calls me "our little precious."  If a meeting is starting late, she sends a look my direction.  When I give an announcement, she looks away as I speak.  She's utterly respectful in word, but the undercurrent seems to send another message.

Every year, this woman presents me with a birthday gift.  They are often items I would never use - a fancy scarf, a tiny pillbox-size jewelry box, a wind-up trinket that plays a hymn.  While I have appreciated the thought, I have often felt that she was giving me items she'd quickly picked up somewhere, or even that others had given her.  She's the type who gives a gift because it is the appropriate thing to do, and knowing that she doesn't think very highly of me, it was easy to assume the gifts didn't reflect much thought.

This year she presented me with a long, thin box.  Without unwrapping it, I knew it was a necklace.  I took it home and opened it with my kids.  As I lifted the lid of the box, we all gasped.  Then the kids began to laugh.  Loudly.  I struggled not to join them.

It was a necklace, but what a necklace it was!  Nine beads - very LARGE beads - were connected by knots on a ribbon.  The beads were ultra-fake - a peachy beige with a pearlescent glow.  Wow.  She'd outdone herself.

Should I wear the necklace?  I've worn a few of her gifts before (another necklace, a pin) and she'd never seemed to notice.  Then again, this necklace was beyond noticeable.  Surely she would realize it if I didn't wear it.  But how could I?

I made up my mind.  If I wore it once, I would have fulfilled any obligation to her.   I decided to wear it to church the very next Sunday.  The color was neutral enough to be easy to match, so at least I had some confidence that it would coordinate with my outfit.

That Sunday, I dressed, styled my hair, applied my makeup, then placed the necklace around my neck.  Interesting.  It didn't look nearly so bad as I thought it would.  It matched my coloring well (I am fair skinned), so didn't stand out as I had supposed.

I gathered the kids and my supplies and went to church.  As I walked in the door, a friend greeted me.  "Love the necklace!" she exclaimed.  In fact, several people admired it.  But most notable was the response of the dear saint who'd gifted me with it.  She was absolutely joyous.  "It looks lovely on you!  I was afraid it would be too bold, but no, it looks just perfect!"  Over and over she declared how wonderful the necklace was for me, and how delighted she was that I appreciated it.  She was far more thankful that I'd worn her gift than I'd been to receive it!

I wonder what changed.  She has never taken an interest in my response to her gifts before.  Maybe she considered this one long and hard.  Then again, maybe she always has.  Maybe she feels as if she finally selected something I like.

Makes me think, long and hard, about my response to gifts and about being a gracious recipient.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Waltzing with Solomon

I've always enjoyed the book of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon tackles the nitty gritty in his self-titled book.  What is the point?  Why bother?  One day is the same as the next.  We think we have something wonderful and new, but history reveals that it's all been done before.

Solomon tried to combat the futility he felt by indulging his cravings.  He toyed with profound knowledge, with tremendous architectural projects, with surrounding himself with wine, women, and song.  He sought pleasure in all its many varieties, and found it was not the remedy to humdrum, meaningless life.

Never claiming Solomon's wisdom, I nevertheless share a pursuit he explored.  He sought out knowledge and man's wisdom to alleviate the tedium and purposelessness of life.  I lean toward the same intellectual bent.  I tend to be pragmatic and practical, to a fault, really.  While I am a spiritual person, I tend to discount the spiritual aspect of my faith and my life.  If it's in black and white, if it's logical, if it's sensible, it is acceptable.  If it smacks of the supernatural, of mysticism or miracles, it is questionable at best.

I've been indulging my inner Solomon lately.  I say this to my shame.  I've become downright cynical about the faith to which I owe so much.  Sure, I acknowledge that Jesus died on the cross to take my punishment for sin, and that this atonement makes me acceptable to God.  But visions, dreams, feelings?  Give 'em to someone else.  I don't acknowledge such things.  I have even become scornful of them and dubious of those who lay claim to them.

I know for a fact ( facts!) that God accepts me as I am, cynicism and all.  I know that nothing more is necessary for me to partake in relationship with Him.  But I know, for myself, that I am missing out on a richness that others enjoy in abundance.  Ignoring the spiritual side of faith sounds anti-intuitive, and it is.  I've paid a high price for my enjoyment of reasoned faith.

I recently participated in a women's fellowship meeting.  The ladies who led worship had an amazing ability to select songs that recalled my haughty intellect back to those days before the cynicism set in.  I had experienced wonder then.  I had approached life with anticipation of meeting God at every turn.  I had enjoyed the dance of spiritual liveliness once.

Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes playing the same melancholy tune he opened with.  The curtain closes and we are neither enlightened nor enlivened.  I hope that my experience will be different.  I want to get as much out of this dance as I possibly can.  I want life, and vigor, and the supernatural, to cut in and sweep me off my feet.

Monday, May 30, 2011

How Did It Go?

A worthy question.  Thank you for asking!

I still am not a preacher.  But apparently I do a pretty good imitation of one.

I was overprepared.  I think most people who feel inadequate probably end up with too much material.  Having so few speaking opportunities, I had no idea how long each part of my "message" would last.  I prepared four segments - one outline, one word-for-word section, one printout of a Bible passage with brief notes, and a suggestion of something to add at the end with no notes whatsoever.  I had no idea which format would be most effective, and this seemed a good way of making sure I had something I'd be able to communicate while standing before a group of people.

The woman who prayed for the service before it began did a great thing, let me tell you.  I was not nervous (not even one little bit).  Standing in front of an assembly of women, most of whom I'd never met and the rest whom I see every week, felt quite natural.  Although I don't remember the blow-by-blow, apparently I was coherent and even somewhat interesting.  As I spoke, I actually looked people in the eye, gestured, and added little bits of humor.

Something I learned about myself:  I am amazingly extemporaneous.  For all my planning, each segment turned out to be a mere launching point for discussion.  My  preparation made my speaking points seem old friends with whom I had much in common, and about whom I could relate familiar detail.

Afterward, a number of ladies approached me with positive comments.  Since I had four segments to my message, there was a lot of ground covered, but there was not one segment that went without comment.  That made me very happy!  As I stood baring my soul, I suspected I was going on a little long, and I wondered if I was wasting my time and theirs.  I was glad to learn that they found my words valuable.

So what did I learn?  I learned that speaking, or preaching, is not a mystical experience.  It's hard work and lots of preparation.  Even though I'm married to a pastor and I see this week by week, it took personal experience to apprehend it for myself.  I also learned that God will speak to His people, even if He has to use someone like me to do it - and that leads me to the realization that those who speak for Him are wholly human.  If they don't measure up, well, neither do I.  That's what grace is for.  Again, I see it in my husband, but it seemed more miraculous when it was me.

I also learned something that the apostle Paul taught long ago.  When we are weak, God steps in with His strength.  It's a good thing to be weak, then.  I can't imagine what would have happened if I'd tried to read my notes and muddle through it alone.  As it was, I prepared and planned, then offered what I had, and God stepped in and called it good.

I am not a preacher, but God can use me as one, anyway.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I'm not a preacher.

Let's just get that straight.

I have been asked to speak at a ladies' meeting this Saturday.  While I realize that everyone says they're uncomfortable speaking in public, I really really am.  People are sure that, because my husband is a pastor, I'm a natural candidate to preach.  Of course, they also think I play the piano and make cute little appetizers, too, ha ha.

The ladies at church are all excited.  At a dinner after church on Sunday I was repeatedly approached by enthusiastic women.  "I can't wait to hear you preach!"  Preach?  Me?  If you knew me, you would find this ludicrous.  I'm not an emotional person.  I don't preach.  Teach?  Sometimes.  Opinionate?  Occasionally.  Preach?  Never, ever.

I've been asked to speak before.  Every time, I nervously pray and prepare.  I write, rewrite, tear up and write again.  I research the Bible, commentaries, and my thesaurus.  I make an outline.  I write out every word.  I make a new outline.  And something always comes up and I never actually speak.  The activity is cancelled, or the worship lasts for hours, or the event becomes an impromptu prayer meeting.

This time it's our denomination's district annual women's fellowship meeting.  The topic is God Speaks, and to be honest, I hope He does.  Maybe I'll open my mouth and A Voice From Heaven will fill the room and leave us all in holy awe for two hours until lunch is served.  I told the woman who organized the meeting about my shady past and we joked that it might snow.  With the weather we've had lately, I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

Or Jesus Himself might return.  Some people say He will.  I should be so lucky.  Er...blessed!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some Good Quotes

Our homeschool group is performing a play about Corrie ten Boom.  My job was to prepare slides to give the audience some feel for the setting and characters before the play begins.  As I researched a bit I thought some quotes from the real Corrie ten Boom would help set the mood.  Although I didn't end up using any, I found some of them insightful, so I thought I'd share my favorites here.

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength." 

"Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open." 

"The tree on the mountain takes whatever the weather brings. If it has any choice at all, it is in putting down roots as deeply as possible."
"When you are covered by His wings, it can get pretty dark." 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day

It was the perfect Mother's Day.

I had to stay home from church because Toddler has a bad cold.  Tween stayed with me, while Teen went to try to fulfill some of my church obligations.  While she was gone, Tween made me a card and Toddler reassured me any number of times that she "wuffs" me.  My third daughter brought Tween home (more about 3D in a future post) and stayed to talk boy/God/future stuff.  We went to the store to pick up subs, cold medicine, and ice cream, then spent the rest of the day watching videos and playing Wii Fit.  Husband called on the computer and we chatted for a while.  Video telephoning is so Jetsons, and so nice.

I love a quiet day at home.  I hate having a fuss made over me.  It really was the perfect day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

First Day Jitters

Tomorrow is the first day of my new life.

Okay.   That is, perhaps, an overstatement.  It is true, though, in a way.

Every year my husband travels for a number of weeks for work.  Usually that means a relaxing of the guard.  When it's just me and the kids, dinner is flexible, and even sometimes optional.  Chores are easier.  Bedtime is strictly enforced, so the rhythm of the days beats a little stronger, making everything else fall into line.  Fun can be more spontaneous, since we don't have to plan around Daddy's schedule or his car usage (we are a one-car family).

This year will be very different.  Teen is in public school for the first time, as I mentioned before.  Usually Daddy drives her to school at 7 a.m., since Toddler is still up at least once, and often more, every night.  While he's gone, driving duty will fall to me, and Tween and Toddler will necessarily accompany me.  Day One is tomorrow.

I am choosing to view this as a great opportunity.  I'm very hopeful that a regulated rising time will help Toddler to finally hold to some kind of sleep schedule, and perhaps even sleep all night.  Tween also produces better schoolwork when he rises early.  Honestly, I also am much more productive when I don't make up for a lack of nighttime sleep by staying in bed until eight or nine in the morning.  Plus, Toddler will need an earlier nap during the day.  She usually naps in the car while I pick Teen up in the afternoon.  A nap at home will mean more time for me to accomplish a few things around the house while she sleeps.

Time will reveal if my hopes are realistic or just a further extension of my reckless optimism.  One good thing, either way, though:  it's much easier to get out of bed at six a.m. when your companion is cheerful expectation!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Surprised by a Well-Known Reality

We've lived in our present city for eight years.  It's very urban, and very depressed.  It was once a pleasant family neighborhood, but now it's somewhat dangerous.  When visitors come, they look at our little block and exclaim at what a nice place it is.  Actually, two blocks down are several boarded-up crack houses.  Two blocks in another direction bring you to the site of a summertime gang murder.  Two blocks up is the home of friends of ours in their eighties, recent victims of a robbery and attempted rape.

When we moved here, Teen and Tween were much younger.  Tween was barely out of toddlerhood, and Teen was a little grammar school age girl.  I spent a lot of time wishing we didn't live here, and more time dreaming of moving back.  It took years to reconcile myself to the fact that we were here to stay.  The remaining time has been spent in making my place here.

It never occurred to me that  my kids were growing up here, though.  Teen remembers our old home, but only faintly.  Tween says he remembers, but his "memories" are mixed up stories that he's heard us tell over the years.  Toddler, of course, has no recollection of our home from eight years ago.

In my mind, my kids grew up in a quiet, rural area of dairy farms and corn crops.  They ran free in a big back yard with woods and trails, geese and deer.  They enjoyed nights of bright stars and crickets.  My mind tells me that I have country children who have been transplanted temporarily to the city.

The reality is different, of course.  Actually, my kids have spent most of their lives in the city.  They are city kids who had a brief, early stint in the country.

Some of you are probably thinking that it's about time I realized this.  I've watched them grow up, after all.  I've raised them to be careful:  Don't answer the door or the phone unless you're expecting a visitor or a call.  Come inside when people you don't know approach the house.  After a brick was thrown through our front window, we bought special glass and rehearsed emergency procedures.  When gangs roam the streets in the summer, we lock the doors and windows and turn on fans so the kids won't overhear.

Maybe the reality was too far from my dream for them, and I overlooked what was happening in front of my eyes.

I tell them all the time that God's plan for them is not always evident, but that He knows what He's doing.  I tell them that hard things make strong people, and that if they are unjustly treated, they can take their complaint directly to Him and He will make it right.  And that right doesn't always look right to us, but that is what trust is.  I know that all these things are true.  I have to admit, though, that it's easier to live them for myself than to watch my kids live them.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Want To Be A Dad

It was raining when I picked up my daughter from school this afternoon.  Her high school shares its building with a Head Start program.  We arrived early, just as many of the Head Start kids were dismissed.  One by one, big burly fathers appeared at the door.  From my observations, dads don't talk much.  They come, pick up their kids, and go.  One carried an adorable pink backpack and raced his little girl through the rain.  Her ruffled coat flapped open as she ran to the car, where he opened her door for her and tossed the pack onto the seat.  Another dad stomped through the rain while sharing an umbrella with his son, who took no notice of the umbrella at all.  He was all about the puddles.

A few moms came, too.  The scenes look very different when a mom leaves the building.  She's got her son's hand firmly gripped in her own - safety first, you know.  Her child carries his own backpack and his coat is safely zipped up to his throat.  She looks busy and purposeful, as does the child she escorts.  She has a lot to say as they walk: Did you eat all your lunch?  Do you have your homework in your bag?  Don't get your shoes wet!

At our home, Mom oversees schoolwork and chores.  Bedtime and wake time are regulated by Mom, as well.  Dad is in charge of entertaining the kids while dinner is being made and cleaned up.  While this job is primarily focused on the Toddler, his influence quickly spills over to the Tween and Teen, as well.  Dad is the Wii master, the about-to-be-defeated Undefeated Wrestling Champion, the silly-voiced narrator.  When Mom announces bedtime, three voices rise in dissent:  Teen's, Tween's, and Dad's.  I don't complain about the lack of help in the kitchen.  Dad has a very stressful job and needs the evening to detox and regroup.  I enjoy training the kids and running the home (to an extent).  But I envy the liberty.  It would be nice to be seen as the playful parent, and not the insistent one, now and then.

Every once in a while, I'd like to be the dad.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ack! I want to write...

but I am crazy busy!

Real life is eating up my online time.  I know that genuine, touchable people are the more important thing, but this has become the Me Time that everyone says is so vital to a soul's survival, and I very much enjoy it.

I shall return!

Monday, April 11, 2011


Happy one month of blogging to me!

In celebration. I wrote two new posts.  This one makes three.  But, as usual, I did not publish either of the other two.  They're still in the manufacturing process.  Chances are good that, at publication, they will not even closely resemble the posts they are now.

That's an interesting thing about blogging.  It refines my writing style, and by extension my thinking style.  I mentioned before that I use a thesaurus fairly frequently.  I also have to write out all of my thoughts, then sift through them for irrelevancies.  I then boil them down to the basics because I tend to go on a little (or a lot) too long.  Once I even ended up with two posts instead of one.

After only a month, however, I find myself resorting to the thesaurus less frequently.  It's also easier to spot a bunny trail before I've typed the entire thing out.

Hopefully this will translate itself into my day-to-day living.  I've found that my online forum life has changed my real-life conversation and comportment for the better, making me more expressive and compassionate.  It would be nice to be articulate and relevant in person, as well!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Toddlers are interesting people.  When they are babies, we watch all their whimsical ways and put thoughts in their heads to match what their gestures seem to be saying.  We assign them all sorts of virtues.  We just know those chubby little cheeks hide the wisdom of the ages.  That little fist waving is a comical retort.  Every quizzical look is scientific inquiry.

Once they start to talk and walk, though, the truth becomes unfortunately evident.  Cute?  Undoubtedly.  Loving?  Selfish, really.  Smart?  Maybe a little, but mostly selfish.  Amusing?  Yes, in a selfish way.  My toddler is no different.  Smart as a whip and cute as a button, but into her own thing.  She's not one to let you wonder what she's thinking - her limited verbal skills are always at the ready to point out exactly what is on her mind.  "Bagel!"  "Toy!  Doll!"  "I wannit!"  She's not one to say "gimme" when a "pwease" gets her what she wants even faster.  She says something that makes everyone laugh; her eyes shine.  She waits for a pause in the conversation and says it again.  And again.  She laughs and claps at her own jokes.

I really think we all have a little toddler remaining in us.  As mature and civil as we preen ourselves to be, inside is a little someone who won't be satisfied until she gets that cookie, or that awesome pair of heels, or that really spiffy car.  Once in a while, we strut a few steps that say, "notice my fine outfit/hair/nails!  Listen to me and affirm my genius!  Make me the center of your world, just for a moment!"  I think the key is to humor others' toddlerisms now and then while not overextending my own.

Now if I can just keep the two straight!

...and I'd really like a cookie...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Bear Truth

Tween has a bear.

Booxie has been Tween's companion since he was one and a half.  Booxie is an every-night bear, a find-him-if-he's-missing-no-matter-what bear.  They've been together through thick and thin: secret midnight conferences, under-table "club" meetings, hospitalizations, vacations.  Naturally Tween wanted to share his honored friend with Toddler.  He hoped that his little sister would esteem Booxie with the same reverence that Tween had.  Accordingly, one evening after dinner he cautiously introduced them.

Toddler's response was not quite what Tween expected.  First she drooled on Booxie - drooled!  Imagine the indignation!  Then she ran around the living room, carrying Booxie by his tie like the lump of stuffing he was before he met Tween.  The more Tween chased Toddler to rescue Booxie, the faster Toddler ran (you knew that, of course).  She gave Booxie slobbery kisses, hugged him downside-up, sat on him, tossed him carelessly about.  Tween was outraged.

He gave her Booxie again the next night.

At this point, he says he will not give Booxie to Toddler completely.  After all, Booxie is a very special part of Tween.  Booxie still has confidante duties to fulfill.  You don't hand over your best friend of many years just because someone cute and needy comes along.  And yet, Tween offers Booxie again and again.  It's as if he wants her to love Booxie, but at the same time is afraid she will.


It's been an interesting exchange to watch - this giving and pulling back.  It must be hard to hand one so loved over to someone of undetermined character, who might devalue, or even damage, the one loved.  

I think I understand how Tween feels.  I feel the same way, in fact, about my Teen as she grows and weans herself of our home.  I want all the world to love her, yet I'm afraid they will.  A giving and a pulling back, for sure.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

An Odd Observation

I've noticed that, since I began this blog, my house has been cleaner.

I've also noticed that it's clean on days I blog, but when I haven't written in a few days, my house returns to its usual state of entropy.

There must be something psychological here.  Perhaps I've invited the world into my life, so to speak, and now I feel I must invite you into my living room, as well.  Maybe reading other blogs, which I didn't do often before, has inspired me toward better organization.

More than likely, though, I've had a bad case of mental congestion, as though my mind was stalled in heavy traffic that was going nowhere.  Perhaps releasing some of my thoughts allows the mental traffic to flow easier.

Whatever the cause, I'm sure my husband appreciates the change.  I know I do!  I've long wondered at my inability to keep my home presentable.  Who knew that something many would consider a waste of time would be a solution?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Upside Down Cooking

It's a recipe.  From me to you.  You can thank me later.

I know...I know.  I can't cook.  Well, if a non-cook posts a recipe, you know it must be easy.  Think about it:  I can't cook, but this is one thing my family loves.  Besides, I'm locally famous for it (as in "several people in church have tried it and no one has died yet").  And since I'm so renowned, I thought I'd share it with you.  First, however, I had to standardize it.  I actually measured all the ingredients last night instead of just throwing them in the bowl, and I even timed how long to bake it.

This recipe is great for a quick dinner on a busy weekday or a slightly fancy Sunday breakfast that bakes while you get ready for church.  Scramble some eggs and you're good to go.  I also prepare it, by request, when my daughter has a sleepover, and for my Sunday School students' birthdays.  You can even have it for dessert.

We call it Oven Pancake.  I'll think of some fancy title for it, though, since this is An Official Blog Recipe.  It was originally supposed to be some Dutch apple puff pancake thing, but as I said I can't cook, and mine never puffed, nor did any Dutch people ever request any.  Since it didn't work as planned, I tweaked it until I liked it.

Oh - if you want it to look fancy, slice the fruit instead of chopping it and lay it neatly in the pan.

Upside Down Dinner Pancake
Makes 8 large servings
Can be halved and baked in a regular cake pan

1/3 stick butter
Brown sugar
Cinnamon (other spices, if you like)
2 c peeled, chopped fruit.  Apples, blackberries, frozen (thawed) peaches or blueberries work well
2 c flour
1/3 c sugar (I usually use more because we like it sweet)
1 t salt
2 T baking powder
2 eggs
2 T vegetable oil
1 1/4 c water

Preheat oven to 350*.  While it's heating, place butter in 9x13 baking pan and melt in oven.

Mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in large bowl.  Add eggs, oil and water, and stir until combined well.  Batter will be thick and possibly lumpy.

Once butter has melted, liberally sprinkle brown sugar (leave it clumpy) on the butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon.  If using apples, I add allspice; for peaches, I like to add ginger.

Place fruit in a single layer on top of brown sugar.  Pour batter on top of fruit, being careful to cover as much fruit as possible.

Bake for one hour, or until toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool a few minutes.  Cut into eight pieces for dinner or breakfast, more for dessert.  To serve, remove from pan with a cake server and flip upside down onto plate.

Serve with maple syrup, but don't expect people to use any.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Books as First Friends

When books are your friends, the written word takes on special importance.  Books always say what they mean, and they generally say it well.  Books are eloquent in ways a verbal communicator can not be.  Sentences are carefully measured; words are well chosen; awkward pauses are nonexistent.  Y'know?  (See what I mean?)
A bookworm tends to desire to relate in like manner.  Spoken word is mere communication; written word is expression.  Early friends like C.S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott define conversation as much as the friends on the baseball diamond or at the sleepover do.  Bookworms, I suspect, are blogworms, as well, choosing written expression as their best expression of self.
My husband and I had a discussion the other day.  He struggles with the fact that I take his words very literally.  He will occasionally choose a word that doesn't fit well with the topic he is discussing.   Maybe he'll say taunt instead of taut, or invoke rather than encroach.   When I appear perplexed, he misconstrues my confusion as ridicule.  It has always been very difficult to convince him otherwise.  As a lifelong reader, I enjoy a larger vocabulary than he does.  As a man whose bread and butter is earned from verbal expression, this pleases as well as intimidates him.  I understand, then, his natural conclusion that I'm laughing at him.

During our conversation, insight finally sparked. I am a person of the written word.  Phrases are rarely misspoken in my native tongue.  I am not a better verbal communicator, as he suspected, but a worse one.  My look is one of genuine misinterpretation.  It takes time for me to translate into my book-learned language.  Others, whose first friends played kickball and dollhouse, talked and laughed and joked in good, honest verbal vernacular.
The explanation helped him understand.  It also helped me to pinpoint an area of growth I've struggled with for a long while.  Good communication is not always precise and standardized. In fact, sometimes the best conversation is ragged and random.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Foul Language

The need to exaggerate, to have the biggest, best, ugliest, meanest, bugs me.  I don't like the inherent dishonesty, but the effect on the English language is the thing that really gets under my skin.  It dulls and mutes the expression of genuine sensation until meaningful words are rare.

I giggled, I was amused, I laughed my head off, I was hysterical.
Hysterical?  Really?  I think and hope not.

I was surprised, I was shocked, I literally fell over backward.
Literally?  Do you have photos?

I have a word under my skin right now.  Appalling.  In my mental dictionary, it does not refer to high gasoline prices or Sister Theodora's slip showing in church on Sunday.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with someone's social miscue or a problem with a telephone customer service representative.

I have heard appalling things this week.  Appalling is devastating, horrific.  Appalling leaves no room for words or thoughts - it overwhelms and consumes.

Appalling changes everything.

I'm going to go ahead and post this one, even though I'm dissatisfied with it.  I just need to say it - it's been in my thoughts too long.  I will add, though, that nothing appalling has happened to me.  Have mercy, Lord.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More About Music: The Voice

Please note:  I wrote this post long before hearing there is a TV program by the name "The Voice."  I did not intend to refer to that program in this post.

I hate it when people take an ordinary occurrence and spiritualize it with some deeper meaning.  I'm about to do just that.  I embarrass myself.  Don't worry, though.  It's short and won't hurt much.

My husband has a Voice.  When he sings, you know he's singing.  Others sometimes stop singing just to listen to his Voice.  When he leads worship, he truly needs no microphone - his Voice is very present.  His Voice is built for solos.

I have a very plain voice.  Pleasant, but certainly not outstanding.  When I sing, I naturally blend with everyone around me.  If someone happens to hear me (I tend to harmonize), they inevitably think it was someone else.  My voice is built for choir.

Tween and I were driving and he asked me about his voice.  He can carry a tune, and he shows some promise as far as impromptu musicals are concerned, but he's still got a little boy voice.  Tween, however, was under the distinct impression that his was a Voice Like Unto His Father's.

I'm a "burst their bubble" kind of mom.  I don't believe in pumping up my kids about talents they don't have.  Being that this was tween, though, I had to do a slow deflate rather than a rapid pin thrust.  So we talked about the relative merits and drawbacks of solo vs. choir voices.  Here is what we came up with:

Solo:  Can sing a solo.  Can't sing in an ensemble, as the Voice stands out too much.  Can be intimidating to sing with.

Choir:  Can't sing a solo except in unusual circumstances.  Duets, trios, quartets, choirs - all good.  Great background vocalist.  Welcome at sing-alongs.  Fun to sing with.

At this point I waxed spiritual.  Solo voices are wonderful to listen to, but choir voices reflect more of the body of Christ.  Rather than standing out, we are usually called to augment, or blend, or refine a cooperative effort.  The beauty is found in the blend.

Tween rubbed his chin for a moment, then agreed with me that a choir voice is more flexible, and more like the body of Christ.

Then, of course, he wanted reassurance that he wasn't completely out of the running for a Voice.  After all, one day a man's voice would be his.  Perhaps, someday, he, too, will have a Voice!

He's right, of course.  I can't help but wonder, though, if he inherited a pinch of my reckless optimism.

Have you ever seen a sentence with so many commas as the one three sentences ago?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Random Acts of Concert

I love all of my children, but my teen and toddler are definitely at more lovable stages than my tween.  Tweens are not as cuddly and charming as very small children, nor are they as companionable as teens.  Parenting a tween is very hard work for me (...she said, having never parented a defiant, rebellious child to adulthood).  Tweens are physically, socially, and emotionally awkward, and they test all fronts at all times.

It is rare to find a point of agreement between my tween and I.  He is over-the-top goofy except when he's brownnosing me or being sulky and sullen.  Sometimes it seems that everything he does grates on my last nerve.  Luckily, I seem to have lots of last nerves!

Once in a while, though, something strange occurs - and I think you will agree with my definition of strange here.  One of us will begin to invent a jingle about some mundane happening.  A jazzy tune will accompany a lyric about losing yet another pencil, for example.  The pencil song develops a bit, and then the other of us jumps in.  First we do a little echo.  Then we alternate lines or verses.  Finally we throw a little harmony, a little embellishment in the mix.

Sometimes a lost pencil becomes a full-fledged musical, complete with choreography and the Big Ending.

We laugh, pat each other on the back, hum another bar or two.  Then it's back to struggle and strain.

Sometimes it scares me that this child, who lives to drive me insane, is so like me.  Though he's in the driver's seat on this journey, he sure can make the trip fun!

And now you know my tween is a boy.  So goes the anonymity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Love Note

I miss you, bloggie dear.

It's only been a day or two, but at this early, passionate stage in our relationship I didn't want you to feel spurned or neglected.

I have an unusually busy weekend, but don't despair.  I love you, and I'll return soon.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Delusions of Grandeur

I have 'em.  Lots of 'em.

I'm a humble soul.  I don't overestimate my abilities or toot my own horn.  But deep in a little-known corner of my heart lurks an expectation of greatness.

Here's a good example:  Every evening I prepare dinner.  I am not known for my cooking abilities; in fact, I am rather infamous where cooking is concerned.  Yet for some strange reason, whenever I try a new dish, or alter an old one, a voice in my head whispers of impending celebrity.  The voice begins small enough, quietly hinting that this dish may actually taste good.  However, it quickly intensifies.  Within minutes I envision posting my recipe on an internet forum.  The dream accelerates:  after rave reviews, it's picked up on hundreds of blogs.  It becomes the next viral Chloe's Chicken Soup!  Suddenly, people are asking me - ME! - for tips, advice, recipes!

So far the accolades have not been forthcoming, however.  I remain a mediocre cook at best.  It's fine with me; as I said, I don't overestimate my own abilities.  Still, my inner enthusiast cheers me on.

I'm deluded in other areas, as well.  Whenever I undertake anything new, suddenly I am certain that this is the work that will make me great.  A sewing or knitting project will show me to have tremendous talent.  My co-op class will be the one people beg to enroll their children in.  My help on the sound board at church will resolve all problems and satisfy everyone's need for the perfect volume and sound quality.  You get the picture.

Perhaps I am too hard on myself, though.  Maybe I'm not deluded so much as optimistic.  Some mix their optimism with caution; I do the opposite.  You might say I'm recklessly optimistic.

Yes, that sounds much better, doesn't it?

And who knows?  Perhaps one of these days I will find an area in which I truly excel.  I certainly have the right person behind me, inspiring me ever onward!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Borrowing My Daughter's Adolescence

...or riding her coattails, so to speak.  (This, BTW, is how anonymity erodes - now you know my teen is a girl and it's only Day 3. :) )

My daughter is pretty, smart, and funny.  She's not beautiful, brilliant, or hilarious.  However, she's got something that makes further qualifiers unnecessary - confidence.  She's striding toward womanhood with grace and guts.  She's modestly stylish, and when she finds something in her style she knows it and grabs it.  She applies her makeup artistically - sometimes with a flirty flourish, and sometimes with discreet simplicity.  She's not brash, but she stands up for herself and others when necessary.  And she knows when to leave a fight alone.  Yes, she's hormonal - but she knows it and keeps herself in check.

My adolescence was very different.  I was tormented by self-doubt and afraid to try anything new lest someone criticize.  All I learned of womanhood I learned after the age of 20, and it was a stumbling,  faltering education.  Even now, in my mid-forties, I still don't "get it."

However.  Watching my daughter enter the feminine world as she is, I realize that I can "get it."  I can have the same confidence to like what I like, and to feel good about feeling good, as she has.  All I have to do is let go of that old, tattered noose of feared criticism.  I watch her, and I see that ostracism hasn't crashed her party.  No one ridicules her or even teases.  In fact, they respect her uniqueness and confidence, even when they don't care for her choices.  And this is where her beauty and brilliance lie.

So now I'm working on becoming beautiful and brilliant, too.  It's fun to be trying new makeup, clothing and hairstyles at my age, when I ought to be settling into the usual entering-middle-age rut.  But I feel it coming on - this beauty and brilliance - and I like it.  I like it a lot!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Warm Fuzzies!

Looky there!  A follower!

How neat is that?  It's like sneaking quietly off to the airport on a trip you're a bit anxious about, only when you step off the plane at O'Hare to get your connecting flight, there is a good friend waiting with a coffee and a hug to wish you well on your trip!

...or it might be just a little creepy.  ;)

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's me!

Well, here I am!  How lovely that you stopped by.

Perhaps I will explain that this blog is an experiment.  I find that I need a place to air my thoughts without a lot of commitment to consistency or application.  Since I don't know when I'll stop in, I don't expect to invite people to read often.

I'm a random, ordinary mom of three.  My teen is enrolled in a charter school - our first foray into the world of public socialization.  My tween is homeschooled.  Ten and eleven are difficult ages for me to parent, and my tween is certainly stretching me a bit further than I'm comfortable with.  My toddler is on a continual pendulum between hilarity and tantrumation.  The toddler is due to become quite a handful, given the large age gap and the incredible cute factor.

My husband is in the mix, too.  His work is intense, though, so he doesn't appear often in the day-by-day script.  Intense also describes his personality, and he is generally intensely involved in whatever revolves around his own little planet.  It's not a bad thing, but it doesn't seem to be the marital norm.  I'm good with it, which is, I suppose, the important part.

I fully expect that, over the next few weeks, this blog will become either formidably anonymous (not likely) or casually personal.  I find it difficult to disguise my identity and still write coherently, but I don't want to expose myself.  We will see what happens.

FWIW, I used an online thesaurus to look up "formidably."  I tend to want more words than I actually own.